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Kevin Molino has been ruled out for the rest of the 2018 season. What now?

A non-contact injury forced the winger off the pitch in Orlando, and that turned out to be a torn ACL.

Kim Clement

Minnesota United FC lost playmaker Kevin Molino to a torn ACL and he has been ruled out for the rest of the 2018 season. The winger was in exquisite form during his first two matches, scoring two goals and assisting another. He was integral part of the 2017 campaign for the Loons, while additionally being the most expensive signing the team had ever made. It is the second time in Molino’s career that he has torn his ACL, his first in his right knee while it being his left knee now.

The biggest storyline moving forward is: How can the Loons move forward without their playmaker, and what will they do to replace him? Replacing such an integral player to your team and your formation is not an easy task, and head coach Adrian Heath will have his hands full with the situation. Molino has promptly been playing the #10 position for the Loons, and overtime he's developed his play there. He may have naturally been a left-winger, but he fulfilled the attacking midfielder role according to the team's needs perfectly fine. Based on the current rostered players for Minnesota, they have two choices in players to replace Molino for the time being. Rookie Mason Toye, who had an extremely bright showing against Orlando as well as a great preseason will have a shot to occupy the role, as well as USMNT capped winger Miguel Ibarra. On Friday March 16th, it was reported from the Loons practice that those two players will be competing for the starting spot against the Chicago Fire in the Loons home opener on St. Patrick's Day.

As always, the Star Tribune's Megan Ryan is on top of things covering the Loons, especially on crucial topics such as this. The two players have been battling it out over the majority of the week presumably, although my expectation is that we see Ibarra start; strictly based off of experience and mentality. I fully expect Toye to be substituted in the match as well, his energy could bring a late splurge of electricity to the attack for the Loons, similar to last week against Orlando. The rookie had a beautiful flick on to Ibarra who then assisted Ethan Finlay for what would be the game winning goal. The Loons formation should not change a whole lot for their home opener, as it’s expected that Sam Nicholson will be playing after a slight hamstring injury last weekend. Here is my best guess on how the Loons will lineup.

For the time being, Toye and/or Ibarra is a temporary fix. I don’t particularly see either of them playing out of position for more than a game or two. The Loons will have to replace Molino with a starting caliber player, who can occupy the 10 role. Previously, the Loons had planned for a situation like this, with Manny Lagos throwing nearly 8 million dollars towards an attacking midfielder named Nicolas Benedetti. The playmaker is a colombian international who currently plays for Deportivo Cali in the first tier of Colombian soccer. The Loons massive bid was rejected, in hopes that the club could find a European suitor for their young star. In addition to benedetti, there have been a few players within the league that the Loons have been linked with in that position since the end of 2017. The two named players were Sacha Kljestan and Lee Nguyen, and with Kljestan signing for Orlando City the pickings within the league are now slim. It has been reported that Nguyen wants an out from the New England revolution, but first year head coach Brad Friedel has the midfielder in his plans for 2018. The situation with Nguyen is a waiting game, as the Loons are not the only suitors for the American international.

After Molino went down with an ACL injury against the Lions, Loons fans on social media were hitting the #PANIC button everywhere, but luckily, they may not have to for much longer. A deal that has been in the works for “coming weeks” prior to Molino going down erupted this week. The Loons are moving on on Darwin Quintero, a colombian international who currently plays for Club America in the LIGA MX of Mexico. The deal is reported to be in advanced talks after head coach Adrian Heath and sporting director Manny Lagos flew down on wednesday night to see the player in Concacaf Champions League action against Tauro FC.

MLSSoccer.com reporter Paul Tenorio offers more insight on who the player is, while confirming the pursuit as well. Quintero has been long acquainted with MLS sides, with the San Jose Earthquakes and Toronto FC being two clubs interested in the attacker. Quintero would be the club’s first Designated Player while more than likely occupying the 10 role that was originally Molino’s. Quintero has the ability to play on the wing or as a secondary striker, which is extremely similar to an attacking midfielder.

With a crucial game in front of an expected lower bowl sellout against the Chicago fire tomorrow, how will Minnesota United FC perform? How will the Loons cope without their playmaker up top? There are a lot of questions that need answers, but those answers have not arrived yet. For now, we play the waiting game, while keeping the #PANIC button close; but not too close.